If it feels like it, we mean. Knife missiles are of course sentient, and sometimes a bit chippy.

7. EDust assassins

These are sentient nanomachines made of EVERYTHING ("Everything- Dust" or "EDust") which can take the shape of ANYTHING (you, me, that dog poo) and level entire buildings. EDust assassins are one of Special Circumstances' "Terror Weapons", and they impress me so much that I'm slightly worried that I'm actually North Korea.

8. Atomic tattoos

In the novel Surface Detail, an indentured servant (belonging to an unenlightened non-Culture slaver, obviously) is branded with a beautiful tattoo signifying ownership. The tattoo is written into the structure of every cell of her body, replicating itself into infinite smallness inside her DNA.

When her owner murders her, the Culture revives the slave, and she uses her tattoo to wreak her revenge. Take that, Steig Larsson.

Not quite how we envisioned the atomic tattoo...
Not quite how we envisioned the atomic tattoo...

9. Mosquito drones – now available on Earth?

In the novel Consider Phlebas, a tiny robot mosquito collects a blood sample from a human. According to the rumour mill, this isn't a million miles away from possible military developments today. Maybe 500,000 miles away, but not a million.

10. Personality backups and goodbyes

In a move that's at once heartbreaking and reassuring, Iain M Banks has made the Culture's attitude to death a philosophical one.

Death is essentially optional in the Culture – many people "back up" their personalities in case they shuffle off the mortal coil accidentally (extreme sports are big in the Culture). Then a copy of the individual can be reborn in the same form, a different one, or purely in virtual reality.

If they're bored they may choose to go into storage and wake up some time in the future. Also, biological and AI individuals – and entire civilisations – can "sublime"; that is, leave the material universe behind altogether and segue into some mysterious immaterial existence.

And finally, should a Culture citizen's natural body give out, once the appropriate respects have been paid, they will be displaced directly into the heart of their home sun.

Want to read more? Check out the Culture series on Amazon.

So long, and thanks for all the drones.